When you think about content marketing, what comes to mind?

Blog posts? Website copy? Press releases?

Those are all great examples of content marketing and how it can be used to demonstrate value to your audience without being overly self-promotional. There are other ways as well, however.

Recently, brands have been finding creative ways to bring the power of content marketing into the physical realm. For companies who sell physical products (whether through ecommerce or brick-and-mortar), construction and packaging represent important aspects of product development and manufacturing. Even food service brands, whose products are perishable, have to decide how to best package and deliver those meals in a way that supports their brand. For these companies and those in countless other industries, packaging of products represents a huge opportunity to create engaging content for your audience. Perhaps most importantly, it’s being delivered to a segment of your audience that you can already count as customers. They’ve already completed the purchase, so you can stop worrying about being persuasive or sales-y. All you have to worry about – marketing-wise – is putting something in front of your customer that they’ll appreciate and find interesting. More than anything else, it’s a “thank you.” Thanks for being our customer, now enjoy this.

Here’s a few examples that we think best exemplify the benefits of this strategy.

Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought Series

The best example of this style of packaging-as-marketing strategy has been employed by Chipotle. Recently, they announced a partnership with author Jonathan Safran Foer that will culminate in a “Cultivating Thought” series of written content featured on the cups and bags that their meals are served in. The contributions will come from a wide range of public figures including comedians like Sarah Silverman and Bill Hader, but also many serious writers like Michael Lewis and Toni Morrison.

Actually, Safran Foer came up with the idea for the series himself and promptly emailed Chipotle CEO Steve Ells. The two had previous correspondence when research for one of the author’s most famous books, Eating Animals (that explores factory farming and unethical meat consumption), brought him into frequent content with Chipotle and its representatives – but not in a muckraking sense.

In fact, Chipotle is known for maintaining relatively high ethical standards in terms of where they source their ingredients and how they deliver it from farm to table. At least as far as fast food chains go. So partnering with thoughtful authors like Foer and Toni Morrison makes sense for them. As they continue to surge in popularity (due, admittedly, to how delicious the food is more than anything else) they benefit from cultivating their image as a conscious, trustworthy brand. They see their corporate social responsibility not just as a smart business move, but as a simple reflection of the actual humans that work there. They genuinely care about the product being of the highest quality – and delivering engaging content on top of it (or wrapped around it, more accurately) is only part and parcel of the general mission. Whether or not this is true (the fact that their CEO rakes in far more than almost any other food service CEO in the nation should give us pause), isn’t important at the moment: they are successfully using their packaging – along with all of their other marketing strategies – to present it as reality.

Snickers Replaces ‘Snickers’ With the Symptoms that Make You Crave Them


For years, Snickers has built campaigns around a common theme: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” There’ve been quite a few memorable television spots featuring characters whose hunger has caused them to be swapped for completely unrecognizable, more ornery replacements. The only thing that can solve the dilemma and return them to their natural state is the delicious, hunger-crushing pleasure of a Snickers bar. The spots have been hugely successful, and continue to this day, with a commercial that uses archival Brady Bunch footage to replace Marcia with Danny Trejo – until she gets her Snickers, that is. Pretty funny stuff, to be sure.

Now, they are taking that marketing concept and transferring it over to their packaging.

Featuring twenty one customized bar packages, the campaign features symptoms of hungry people that go along with the concept that has been incorporated into their brand for years. The symptoms – including Cranky, Irritable, Forgetful, Spacey, and Dramatic – demonstrate that they are clearly not taking the packaging-as-marketing strategy in the same direction as Chipotle. For Chipotle’s campaign, corporate social responsibility, intellectual engagement, and feel-good contemplation are the keys to the game. Snickers, on the other hand, wants to foster playful jabbing amongst friends.

This mild edginess has worked well for them in the past, so they’re not sacrificing brand consistency in the name of grasping for a ‘cool’ factor. In fact, even swapping out the brand name from the product (which would be considered anathema in most traditional marketing textbooks) doesn’t put much of a dent in their brand consistency. The typeface, color scheme, and surrounding graphic design remain exactly the same, so it isn’t even noticeable upon first glance (the moment when brand inconsistency would typically do any damage) that a new word has been swapped in. Overall, the packaging swap-out is funny, somewhat edgy, and gets bonus points for fitting in nicely amongst the themes of their other advertising strategies.

Coca-Cola Brings Content Marketing to Personalized Bottles

Coca-Cola is as much ingrained into the history of American pop culture as apple pie and the World Series. The classic logo and bottle shape (even though they’re not glass any longer), coupled with campaigns such as the polar bear and the ‘Hey kid, catch!’ commercials of the 1970s, have instilled the brand with a certain wholesome aura. The low-brow gimmickry of the Snickers campaign – while funny and effective for them – just wouldn’t fit into a personalized packaging campaign for Coke. So, they went with what has always been their bread and butter: simple, feel-good promotional content.

In this case, the feel-good nature of the personalized bottles comes from how Coca-Cola is framing the campaign. Via television spots, print ads, and websites dedicated specifically to this campaign, soda drinkers are being encouraged to ‘share a Coke’ with a friend by buying them one with their name on it. The campaign is similar to Snickers’ in the sense that it is fostering interactions between friends that involve their brand, but different in its wholesome vibe.

Over the past two decades, as content marketing has grown into a hugely influential industry, it has become clear that marketing is most successful when approached with an inclusive, out-of-the-box mentality. To do it right, you need to be willing to insert your brand into spaces and conversations that it might not feel immediately natural to do so. One of those places is the packaging used for your products. If done well, though, as in the three cases listed above, it can foster real world connections between your customers and the rest of your content marketing, all the while boosting your brand and (most likely) your revenues.